01.12.2007 - 02.12.2007 25 °C
We left Antigua on Saturday morning and travelled practically all day up north to Lanquin, in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, where the climate starts to become tropical. After many phone calls trying to trace the reservation lady at El Retiro, we finally managed to reserve two beds in this recommended place, just before hopping on the bus in Antigua.
The name El Retiro is not really the most suitable name for this backpackers spot, which certainly does not look like a retreat whatsoever. When we got there at 7:15 pm - the communal dinner had just started - the party was in full swing and there were hardly any seats to be found. Our arrival was quite traumatic, actually: we got there in heavy rain, got assigned the two top beds in a small cramped bunked dorm, got down to the packed restaurant only to find someone giving a nasty look to Gregory, who got upset and decided that he hated the place and refused to have dinner. We would have left if it wasn't that we had already paid for our dorm beds - payment is taken as soon as you step in there. The next day, however, things improved dramatically. First of all the couple that we were sharing the dorm with were very nice, which helped us accept the new accomodation style which we are not really used to and which we had to accept as the only way we could get ourselves into this popular place. Secondly, breakfast time in the restaurant was much less crowded and thirdly and more importantly, in the restaurant there was a chess board. All sorted! We even got a fantastic sunny day and managed to get ourselves onto the 10:30 trip to Semuc Champey and the caves and book the bus up to Tikal for the next day, all perfectly syncronised and a day ahead of schedule.
Semuc Champey is a truly fantastic place. It is basically a set of limestone pools positioned in staircase fashion with a river running below them underground: the pools are filled with mountain spring water and vary between emerald green and turquoise. A swimmers paradise! The wis hhole area is very beautiful and the journey to the pools alone is worth doing in itself. There are various caves around here and the typical trip, organised by the hostel, includes a visit to the water-filled K’ANBA caves, a quick tubing session down the river, an 8-meter jump from a bridge, and finally a walk up to the mirador for a panoramic view of the pools and then a splash inside them. This is exactly what we did, except that I skipped all the parts that involved jumping off from any sort of high point into the water. I had done a similar trip into water-filled caves here in Guatemala the last time, near Poptun. Very challenging and adrenaline-filled, the last trip still brings dark memories of when I had to jump into the water in the dark while trying to avoid underlying rocks. So this time I decided that there was absolutely no need to put myself under any kind of similar pressure and that I could enjoy the whole thing quite successfully without jumping anywhere. Gregory, to compensate, did all the jumps that he could possibly do.
This is the site official website, which provides some more pictures of the area:
El Retiro Hostel
Semuc Champey from above
Semuc Champey from below
Someone is having hesitations about jumping...